I’d say my musical leaning during my high school and college years consisted of whatever was on the radio or a cover band at a party. I did see the occasional live act: Vanilla Ice, Sister Hazel, Afroman a few times. Even after I graduated and moved back to Birmingham I didn’t seek out new music. I was in my Led Zeppelin phase any way and no one could compare.
Then I met my wife and everything changed.
She listens to a lot of different stuff or at least different to me. I think her iPod playlists had music from more than just 1960/70’s Rock and mid 90-00’s Alternative. She listened to bands I had never heard of, styles I didn’t normally listen too, and lots and lots of show tunes. We still weren’t going to many, if any, live acts, but we were talking more about music and I was definitely listening to new stuff.
Then she graduated and we moved to Atlanta.
There is no shortage of things to do in Atlanta. Between the pro/college sporting events, beer festivals, hiking trails, and concerts, we had to pick between a few things we wanted to do since we couldn’t afford them all. We almost always picked concerts. We were seeing bands in venues of all shapes and sizes. We began going to some of the festivals in Atlanta too, something Birmingham lacked once City Stages disappeared.
We never forgot about Birmingham though, especially my wife. She has listened to BMR, Birmingham Mountain Radio, since it’s inception. I finally figured out where she heard all the new music. It was like a secret music club that she let me into. So we listened online to BMR at work, at home, on the road, and then on the radio when we would visit Birmingham again. It got to the point where it was either NPR or BMR in Atlanta for us.
As we continued to enjoy BMR, that’s when concert attendance really took off. We realized how many smaller bands were coming to Atlanta and playing at intimate venues. We had mostly seen shows at large amphitheaters, not standing room only type spaces. As we developed a greater awareness for the lesser known bands, our venue size decreased and out concert enjoyment increased. The confetti cannon at OKGO might be the highlight of my wife’s life. Hearing St. Paul play Tom Waits’ “Make it Rain” to close out a show might be the highlight of mine. I’d bet the crowd that night peaked at 20. We were really loving the music scene in Atlanta.
Then we realized some of these acts didn’t stop in Atlanta at all. For some reason, some bands skipped Atlanta altogether. Instead, they would play a show in Birmingham and then bypass Atlanta for Ashville or Nashville or another ‘ville. We couldn’t believe a band would willfully skip Atlanta, but they did.
Our only option was to start driving over to Birmingham to catch these shows. It’s a long drive back to Atlanta at 1 AM, but after hearing Dawes and Alabama Shakes rock Sloss, the drive feels a little shorter. We managed to catch Dispatch there too on a weeknight and then saw Houndmouth at Saturn on another weeknight before heading back to Atlanta to work the next day. It was always worth the drive, knowing we got to hear our new favorite bands. I suppose there was a little gloating from us too, since Atliens never seem to visit Birmingham, but Birmingham people often visit Atlanta.
When my wife and I moved back to Birmingham to start Red Clay Tours, one of the first things we did was catch a show and then another. It’s great to be back in a town that loves music and allows us the opportunity to see incredible acts in more cozy venues. We saw our first concert at the Alabama Theater and Iron City. The Birmingham of today does not lack for music venues. Maybe the Birmingham of 6-7 years ago didn’t either, but we just didn’t know.
We’ve got tickets to see Shakey Graves at Avondale soon, checking off yet another great music venue in the city. I think we might even pluck the courage to try Secret Stages, though I don’t know if I’m hip enough for that festival. This weekend will be our first time at Slossfest too. We can’t wait to see Nathaniel Rateliffe and of course the Shakes. Its been a couple of years since we’ve seen them, but they are amazing and from Alabama, which doesn’t hurt.
I think I’ve come along way since my first couple of concerts in Birmingham, Ludacris at City Stages and Hootie and the Blowfish at the Crawfish Boil. Ludacris is now an actor, Hootie is now a country music star, and both events are now long gone. Here’s hoping Slossfest and the the other music venue’s in town stick around for a while longer.